filed under: maintenance best practices

FAQ: Trash on trails

Solutions to trash on trails

by American Trails Staff

Congaree National Park 2013 National Trails Day clean up event.

Trash belongs in garbage cans, dumpsters, and landfills. It does not belong in parking lots, along roadsides, in school yards, or on lawns. But for some reason, it’s especially offensive when found along a nature trail. Would you want to walk on a trail filled with empty water bottles and crumpled pieces of trash? The answer to this is likely no.

While some hikers intentionally litter, others attempt to remove it as they wander the trails. Some even head out on the trails with the sole purpose of gathering trash to beautify nature. Saving animals from ingesting litter or otherwise becoming harmed is another reasons to pick up trash along trails.

Here are a few program examples from throughout the country:

Leave No Trace

One of the leaders in the movement to keep trash from nature trails is The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a national organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. The Center accomplishes this mission by delivering cutting-edge education and research to millions of people across the country every year.


Many areas have Adopt-a-Trail programs where by volunteering time one can help keep a trail clean and safe. Here area two examples of adoption programs:

  • The City of San Jose's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services' has two citywide volunteer programs that recruit and train residents to assist in the general care and maintenance of neighborhood parks, trails, and other parkland on City property. Adopt-A-Park and Adopt-A-Trail also educates the public about creating and preserving clean and safe parks and trails for everyone.
  • The Appalachian Mountain Club, the United States Forest Service, State of New Hampshire, Maine Bureau of Public Lands, and other trail clubs and organizations cooperatively maintain the almost 1,500 miles of trails in the White Mountains. The Adopt-A-Trail Program provides the opportunity for volunteers to perform basic maintenance on trails in the White Mountain National Forest.

Organize a trail clean up event

The Des Moines River Water Trail annual River Run Garbage Grab is held every August, boasting over 350 volunteers spread out along various stretches of the water trail as well as the shoreline cleaning up the river and improving water quality. Following the event, a celebration of the river takes place at Simon Estes Outdoor Amphitheater with live music, food, prizes and fun for all the hardworking volunteers. This event is made possible with partnerships among government agencies, clubs and organizations, as well as corporate sponsorship's.

Des Moines River Run Garbage Grab

Des Moines River Run Garbage Grab

Volunteer stewardship

Volunteer stewardship is a vital part of keeping our public lands maintained, safe, and accessible for visitors. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) often partners with local communities and nonprofit organizations to carry out these important stewardship projects.

In May 2015, a group of volunteers backpacked 25 miles of the Lost Coast Trail in King Range National Conservation Area - a part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands - to help repair and maintain the trail. Volunteers cleared brush from the sides of the trail, removed ocean trash from the beach, pulled invasive non-native plants, cleaned and dismantled campfire rings, and dismantled driftwood shacks that have been built along the trail.

Practice responsible hiking or walking - you can make a difference by just picking up one piece of litter!

Related Resources

Jim Meyer, Trails4All

Since the cleanup of Trabuco Canyon in 1995 Jim has helped clean the canyons.

Texas: Mike Cox

Over the last two years, Mike has picked up well over 200 bags of trash and he continues to monitor the area around Jacob’s Ladder in Waco.

Published February 2011

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